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Posts Tagged ‘relevance

Sometimes I leave home without my wallet. In my wallet are various forms of identification, of which the most important is my national identity card.

I wonder if I am asked to prove my identity that what I have on my phone will suffice. After all, I use a biometric to unlock it. Alternatively, I use a code that only I know.

Once the phone is unlocked, I can launch apps with another round of verification with biometrics that show:

  • Scans of my identify card and passport
  • Credit cards in Apple Pay
  • Bank accounts via apps
  • Store accounts via apps
  • Various bills and statements via apps

I also have photos and videos of me and my family on my phone. My social and other media apps are linked to my identity.

Like most people, I would freak out if I lost or damaged my phone. If there was a fire at home, the first thing I would reach for is my phone. If there was an emergency, my phone would be my lifeline.

I am certain most people would relate to this sentiment: You wring my phone only from my cold, dead hands.

Our phones are insidiously and significantly linked to us. So why are some classrooms still so phone-resistant, phone-absent, or phone-ignorant? Why are administrative bodies still so paper-based? Why are both so stuck in the past?

I am not asking you to prepare for the future. I am just asking that you stay relevant to the present.

Ask any well-read person to predict the future of education and they might a) say they have no answer, b) suggest some rough ideas, or c) warn of impending doom. If they do this, they are looking toward the future aimlessly, wishfully, or fearfully.

An alternative strategy is to look forward by focusing on what you can do now.

Video source

In his TED talk, Joi Ito, head of the MIT Media Lab, suggested we be “now-ists” by:

  • Not asking for permission first
  • Relying on the power of pull (finding what/who you need when you need it)
  • Learning constantly and rapidly
  • Knowing which direction (not necessarily which destination) to head for

What does this have to do with predicting the future of education? Not much. But it has everything to do with shaping it.

Changing education is sometimes about moving when you are not quite sure or ready. It is less about having a concrete or traditionally laid-out plan. It is more about having a direction or vision.

For example, visions or directions in assessment might include “not paper”, not just high stakes examinations, or personal portfolios linked to identity. No one, especially vendors, can say they are ready to roll out systemic changes like these.

Instead of large ocean liners of change, change agents are already smaller, agile boats heading in the same general direction. They also learn to operate their boats differently from large ships.

Progressive change agents learn to leverage on these properties:

  1. Personal relevance
  2. Emotional ties, and
  3. Common causes.

Consider the example of the teacher who started the #iwishmyteacherknew trend. Concerned for her students, she asked them to share something she might not know about them.

The answers were very revealing and moving. They ranged from kids not having pencils at home to do homework, coming from broken families, and not having friends to play with.

The responses locally, in the traditional broadcast media, and on social media were disproportionate to the initial effort. Classmates of a girl who had no friends at the playground rallied around her saying “we’ve got your back”. News sites and broadcast media spread the word [example]. The hashtag #iwishmyteacherknew trended on Twitter and is still active with examples from all over the world.

One teacher’s effort went viral because of personal relevance, emotional ties, and a common cause. But viruses come and go. This effort persists because other caring teachers can relate to it (personal relevance), are moved by it (emotional), and share the same vision (common cause).

The same could be said for Ito’s mission to measure the nuclear fallout in 2011 in Japan because of his concern for his family. He reached out online and found like-minded folk and collaborators.

Ito did not wait for a system to be invented. The #iwishmyteacherknew teacher did not ask for permission to collect data on her students. They did not wait for a better future to come; they made it happen.

If you want to spark and sustain a worthwhile future in education, your effort must connect: It must be personal, emotional, and a shared vision.

Lumberjack by, on Flickr
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I am retelling a short story that our Dean told at an exco meeting last Friday. The example is old-school, but the principle is timeless.

A man spotted two lumberjacks trying to cut a tree down with a saw. He noticed that they were putting a lot of effort into the task, but they were getting nowhere.

He also noticed that the blade was not sharp. The man pointed that out to the lumberjacks and suggested that they stop for a while to sharpen the blade.

The lumberjacks replied, “No, we cannot stop. We are too busy! We have to keep going with our job!”

What is the moral of the story? There is more than one.

One takeaway might be: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Better to be prepared than to simply react.

Another is that it is wiser to stop, reflect, and modify one’s practice instead of doing things the same old and ineffective way.

But those morals deal with the method or strategy. There are also newer tools that are more efficient and effective.

In the context of the story, each lumberjack could have used a chainsaw. The chainsaw is more efficient and powerful and it leads to more productive work.

But in addition to learning a new strategy, the lumberjacks would have to learn how to use a new tool.

Educators must stop, reflect, and learn how to use new tools and strategies.

If they stop long enough, teachers and lumberjacks might also wonder if their jobs are still relevant. Only then can they find ways to stay relevant.

A former teacher trainee of mine posted this on Facebook. It was a question on osmosis and contained a comment from a student about the question.

There is something to be said about meaningful learning (who really cares if potato strips go turgid or flaccid in fluids?). There could be even more said about meaningful assessment!

To bring such a topic to life, a learners could explore kidney dialysis, preservation of fruits and meat, or simply how to make a limp salad look good!

Recently I discussed some math workbook questions with my son. This particular workbook had practice items on telling the time. The problem I had with it was that time was defined only in analogue (as in clock face time, not digital readout time).

My son asked me why he needed to tell the time. I told him that all of us operated on man-made schedules. But as I said this, it dawned on me how silly it was to just focus on telling analogue time.

I’m not saying that it isn’t important to tell the time. But I am reminded of the example that Sir Ken Robinson gave in one of his TED talks about how many of those under 25 don’t wear wristwatches. If my son needed to know what time it was, he would just look at our car’s digital clock, his iPod or a computer.

Insisting on telling clock face time is about as relevant as knowing how to milk a cow. It’s still necessary to milk cows and knowing how to do this could come in handy in a pinch. But that’s like insisting that photographers know how to develop prints or slides when they deal with memory cards and photo editing software now (side note: the last roll of Kodachrome was produced on 30 Dec 2010). Who really needs to know how to do these things in this day and age?

Ultimately, it is about teaching timely content and providing relevant experiences to our kids.

My son enters the primary (elementary) school system today. He needs to be schooled (enculturated) and educated. I have no doubt that he will be schooled. But to be educated, he will need to find relevance in what he learns. As educated parents, we are going to do our best to do that. We can only hope that his school is nimble enough to do the same.

Free gift. Every time I hear that phrase, I smirk. Of course it is free! If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be a gift.

But I digress. Yesterday I said that NIE is falling behind and it not only needs to catch up, it needs to find ways to stay in the lead and stay relevant.

On Tuesday, I received a notice that my email storage space has been “upgraded”. I was told that as an appointment holder my new mailbox size is 1GB (from 300-500MB) while other NIE staff have 500MB (from 200MB). Ooh, a “free gift”!

Uh, what year are we living in? Providers like Gmail already offer 7GB for free. This might sound like a typical Singaporean trying to find something to complain about. I am not complaining. I am making a statement.

I am thankful for the increase in mail storage (file attachments are so much larger these days). There is no complaint there. I am pointing out that other service providers are already offering so much more for free. Why? They sense the environment and respond appropriately.

It is no surprise that a few of my colleagues and I are redirecting their email to Gmail. Not only do you get more storage and a top notch mail search function, Gmail is more mobile friendly too. If more folks realized they could do this and benefit from it, they would leave in droves.

So back to my main point: If you choose not to keep up or evolve, you risk losing your relevance to those you work for or serve. The only thing in your favour is people remaining in the dark or being happy where they are. But they will see the light and eventually be pushed or pulled from their ruts.

Do you see the light? Will you get out of your own rut?

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